I was discussing my method of work with a friend the other day, and I didn’t have time to go into too much detail about my methods. I decided that I would explain it here in a (relatively) concise manner for anyone who was interested.
I tend to work on things under a fairly detailed set of arbitrary constraints. I generally come up with a concept for the project (e.g. look/feel/sound) and run down a list of ideas that jump out first. Some of these are fairly abstract concepts (a colour, an emotion), others are definite and concrete (song must be 60bpm, the album must last only 35 minutes). From this point (in the case of a sound recording) I will come up with a title and track listing. I will make decisions on what each individual track must be like. This could be anything from a list of instruments to be used, to lyrics, to samples I need to create/find, to other music that will serve as inspiration and/or reference point.
The project that I am currently working on started out with a title. I was studying African art and symbology when I came across the Adinkra symbol named “Obaa Ne Oman” which translates roughly as “woman is the nation”. This is an extremely concise way to sum up one of my core philosophical beliefs. I also instantly thought of the Order Of The Eastern Star motto F.A.T.A.L. (Fairest Among Thousands Altogether Lovely). I put these two concepts together and decided to make an album called “Woman Is Thee Nation (F.A.T.A.L.)”.
My original notes for the songs on this album were handwritten in about an hour. The second track was to be called “Auspex”. My constraints were listed as:
Thee word AUSPEX means BIRD WATCHING…
Never forget that.
Field recordings ov birds at the Aviary overlayed with:
A carryover of thee field recordings from track A1
A soft piano in thee distance
The piano should be playing pentatonic phrases on open strings.
AUSPEX should be more concréte than ambient.
Work thee reel-to-reel.
Wow and flutter are your friends.
I had constraints like this for all five tracks of the album, and over the past two years I have slowly gotten Woman Is Thee Nation into a chunk of music that I could be proud of. That is until last night.
In a fit of insanity/brilliance, I stayed up until 8 this morning working on music. I took an album of songs that was nearly complete and dragged them into the trash can and started from scratch. I chucked it all. MIDI files. Rendered tracks. Alternate mixes. The whole lot gone, and a weight off of my chest. I looked over my notes/constraints for this project and made them a reality. What had been nearly two years of fits and starts was completed in a night. And it all sounds way better than my original versions.
Generally I go through this process a few times. Dead track or false starts occasionally show up in different contexts or albums. If all else fails and a track just won’t come together I will render the bits I like into loops and add them to my sample collection.
To illustrate the process here is the “final” version of Auspex. It was created by layering two unrelated pentatonic piano lines of about the same length with some field recordings of birds (mainly robins and sparrows) that I got from freesound. Not entirely to the letter of the constraints, but to the spirit.